Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interesting recreational marijuana regulatory rules emerging in Alaska's laboratory

Download (1)Because Alaska is a "red state" and distinctive in various other ways, I have long been saying that The Last Frontier should be an especially interesting jurisdiction to watch as it develops rules for its recreational marijuana industry.   This local article reporting on the work of Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board as it is finalizing the state's commercial marijuana regulations confirms my thinking on this front. Here are highlights from the article:

At the end of an all-day meeting Friday to craft Alaska's first regulations over the cannabis industry, the state Marijuana Control Board adopted new rules that could blow the door wide open to Outside investment. Marijuana businesses must be 100 percent Alaskan owned, but the definition of what makes an Alaskan was changed from matching what is needed to receive a Permanent Fund dividend to matching voter registration requirements, which is far easier to achieve. Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks called it a “sea change” that could “upend the whole program.”

Qualifying for a PFD requires documents such as employment and school records or vehicle registration, and a certain number of days spent physically in the state. By contrast, for Alaska voter registration requirements, all that is needed is a physical address and no other voter registration elsewhere....

Board member Mark Springer said he proposed the amendment because there had been concerns that the requirement would limit opportunity for some Alaskans to be able to invest. “There are people in this state who travel out of state long enough not to get a dividend, but they live here, so I was looking at it as providing the opportunity,” Springer said. He said he’d consider it a “major failure” if non-Alaskans flew up, rented an apartment and claimed residency. He noted that the amendment still had to withstand the Department of Law's review.

Earlier in the day, the board had voted down two separate amendments that would have allowed for 25 percent Outside investment, but the final changes, some said, were actually far more inclusive for Outsiders. “When you have 75 percent ownership then you give immediate value to Alaska residents. Now, right now …. an Alaska resident is not needed to have a place in this market,” marijuana industry attorney Jana Weltzin said. “They don’t need us anymore,” Weltzin added....

With Tuesday’s deadline approaching, the board had met in downtown Anchorage on Friday with hopes of ironing out remaining questions and concerns surrounding Alaska’s marijuana regulations. Aspects small and large – from licensing fees to retail store hours to packaging requirements -- have been considered by the board in crafting its 133 pages of regulations. Forty-two pages of amendments were posted on the board’s website Friday morning.

Another big change Friday was allowing for marijuana retail licenses to have an area for on-site consumption of marijuana. An adult 21-years or older would purchase marijuana and consume it in a designated area on the store’s premises, similar to a bar. Details on the on-site consumption were not figured out Friday; they will be defined at a later date, Alcoholic Beverage Control and Marijuana Control Board director Cynthia Franklin said.

The vote passed 3-2; the audience, a room composed mostly of marijuana industry advocates, clapped after the vote. “Common sense finally prevailed on one issue,” Weltzin said later.

Other changes made Friday:

• The board voted to remove a cap on THC limits for marijuana concentrates. A prior draft version had capped THC at 76 percent, a calculation derived from the limit placed on spirits; board member Bruce Schulte argued that the cap was taking the idea of regulating marijuana like alcohol too literally.

• Marijuana can be packaged in such a way as to allow consumers to see the product before they purchase it in a retail store, the board voted Friday. A previous version of the regulations had specified that marijuana must be packaged in opaque plastic.

• A broker cultivation license was removed from proposed regulations. Under a previous draft version of the regulations, a license would have allowed for brokers to procure marijuana from small growers and then sell the marijuana to retailers. The license was seen as a way to help small black-market growers transition to the legal market, but the board decided that the broker did not fall under the auspices of a cultivation license.

November 22, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Menominee Indian Tribe files suit seeking declaration it has right under federal Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp

TribalSealThis press release reports on a interesting new lawsuit filed in federal district court this week.  Here are the details: 

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit for declaratory judgment today against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) seeking a judicial determination that Menominee has the right to cultivate industrial hemp pursuant to the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“Farm Bill”). Menominee filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin – Green Bay Division.

Menominee Chairman Gary Besaw stated: “The Menominee Tribe, in cooperation with the College of Menominee Nation, should have the right under the Farm Bill to cultivate industrial hemp in the same manner as Kentucky, Colorado, and other states. These and other states cultivate industrial hemp without threats or interference from the United States government. In contrast, when our Tribe attempted to cultivate industrial hemp we were subjected to armed federal agents who came to our Reservation and destroyed our crop. The Department of Justice should recognize the equality of Tribes under the Farm Bill, and provide us with the same respect they have demonstrated to states growing industrial hemp for research purposes.”

Industrial hemp — which can be grown as a fiber and a seed crop — is used to produce a range of textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics, and building materials that are available throughout North America, the European Union, and Asia. Unlike marijuana, it has no psychoactive effect. Industrial hemp is currently cultivated by farmers in more than 30 countries around the world—from Australia to Canada to China. Menominee had been in discussions regarding its growth of industrial hemp with federal officials for months prior to October 23, 2015 when DEA and DOJ officials raided the Menominee Reservation and destroyed its industrial hemp crop. Brendan Johnson, Partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, former United States Attorney for South Dakota, former Chair of then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s Native American Issues Subcommittee, and an attorney representing Menominee in the action filed today stated: “This is a straightforward legal issue. The lawsuit focuses on the specific legal question of whether the Farm Bill’s industrial hemp provisions apply to Menominee. We are confident that the provisions do apply to Menominee; that Menominee is authorized under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp consistent with those provisions; and that a federal court will read the Farm Bill provisions as we do and require the federal government to recognize Menominee’s rights under federal law to cultivate industrial hemp.”

November 19, 2015 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 9, 2015

South Dakota tribe planning first marijuana resort (mysteriously?) changes plans and destroys (valuable?) crops

As regular readers should recall from lots of prior posts, a Native American tribe seemed well on its way to opening the nation's first "marijuana resort" on tribal lands in South Dakota at the end of the year.  But, as reported in this local article, headlined "Flandreau tribe temporarily suspending marijuana operations," there appears to have been a significant and sudden change in pot plans. Here is the local report, which prompts a lot more questions than answers:

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop as leaders seek clarification on regulations from the federal government, according to the tribe's lawyer.

Seth Pearman said the suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture and that tribal leadership is confident that after getting clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice, "it will be better suited to succeed."

"The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state government and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana," Pearman said in the news release. Pearman said despite suspending the current plan, the tribe intends to be a participant in the marijuana industry.

South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley called the about-face a "positive" choice. "The decision by the Flandreau Tribe to not move forward at this time with marijuana growth in South Dakota is positive and is in the best interest of both tribal and non-tribal members," Jackley said.  "I understand that this has been a divisive matter and that this decision by tribal authorities has not been easy."

Jackley said that he and tribal government officials have had opportunities to sit down and discuss the marijuana operation throughout the process. "We haven't always agreed, but we've had good, positive discussions," he said.  "I will do whatever I can as South Dakota's Attorney General to assist Flandreau in the decision and as I have done throughout this process, make myself available to tribal leadership for further discussions." Jackley told the Associated Press that he was informed of the tribe's decision Saturday. He plans to meet with tribal officials Monday or Tuesday.

Jonathan Hunt, vice present of Monarch America, a Denver-based marijuana consulting firm hired by the tribe, told the Associated Press that a reported fire Saturday was caused by wood and not marijuana. He declined further comment.

Rep. Matthew Wollmann, R-Flandreau, had the opportunity to tour the tribe's marijuana facilities in October.  Wollmann said he was surprised by the decision to forego the venture for now. "They've invested a lot of money into the facilities," he said. Wollmann added that despite the delay, the fact that marijuana is still illegal across South Dakota could continue to create tension between the tribe and the rest of the state.

"Quite frankly, nine out of 10 people that I've spoken to about the issue were not in favor of it," he said.  "I think they had a lot more pushback than they expected. ... Maybe they're waiting for a better environment."...

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe became the first South Dakota tribe to move forward with making marijuana legal.  The tribe's executive committee voted June 11 to make the sale and use of marijuana legal on its reservation in Moody County about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls. The facility had been slated to open at the end of the year.

I would not have been too surprised if, for administrative reasons, the planned opening for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana resort was being delayed. But the (unclear?) indication that the Tribe has now decided against opening up a pot shop on its lands and has destroyed its crop leads me to wonder if the Tribe was subject to considerable pressure from local, state and federal authorities to not be the first tribe actively promoting recreational marijuana sales and tourism.

I hope there will be a lot more (and clearer) reporting on this front in the days ahead, as I am quite curious what prompted the change of plans and also whether the change will greatly influence whether and how other tribes consider moving forward in this challenging space.

Prior related posts:

November 9, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Is Maryland a "sleeper" marijuana reform state to start watching closely?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Baltimore Sun article headlined "Maryland's nascent medical marijuana industry already booming." The article suggests a number of reasons why the Old Line State could and should be the new hot state to watch in the marijuana reform movement. Here are excerpts:

More than 350 applicants for licenses to grow, process or dispense medical marijuana were filed with the state's Medical Cannabis Commission by Friday evening's deadline as entrepreneurs try to get in at the ground floor of the newest pot market. The applications cover every county in the state. "It's very busy, and we're very excited," said Dr. Paul Davies, the commission's chairman. "There's an awful lot of excitement buzzing around."

State officials said they had counted only some of the applications received. Already, they have processed nearly three times more applications than there are grower licenses available and at least twice as many dispensary applications than they can award.

The huge demand is typical of a new medical marijuana market, said Troy Dayton, CEO of ArcView, a cannabis industry research firm. Apart from the District of Columbia, Maryland is the first jurisdiction south of the Mason-Dixon line that has a medical marijuana industry, he noted....

"The biggest opportunity in the cannabis industry is the opportunity to be a limited license holder in a state that is likely to expand," Dayton said. "It makes a lot of sense that people would put a lot of time and resources into their applications and really swing for fences." And because Maryland set up its industry to award licenses on a merit-based system with high fees to apply, Dayton said, it is likely that the businesses that ultimately win licenses will be successful. "You have people really vested in the success of that effort," he said. "And they have a protected market. They're guaranteed a flow of customers."...

Maryland's medical marijuana program has stirred much interest in the industry, said Taylor West, deputy director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. Not only are there few medical marijuana programs on the East Coast, she said, but Maryland's approach to treating a broad range of conditions and awarding a fair number of licenses makes it an attractive place to invest. "This is a brand-new market where there really isn't an established set of businesses there," West said. "So getting in at the ground floor, treating patients and building a reputation has a lot of value."

The breadth of Maryland's medical marijuana program attracted Dr. Greg Daniel and his associates to the state. They plan to build what he calls a "seed-to-sale" operation that grows the marijuana, processes it and then sells it at a dispensary. Daniel said he has talked to officials in Easton about converting an old Black & Decker factory into a growing and processing plant, and he applied to operate a dispensary near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The total cost to build the operation would be about $10 million.

For more than a decade, Daniel ran a doctor-staffing business before getting into the medical marijuana industry. He said he narrowly missed the cutoff to be awarded one of the few licenses available in New York, where he is based, but sees a bigger potential market in Maryland because of the way the program is set up. "We could be very successful here," said Daniel. "The number of patients that we would be able to treat would be greater in the Maryland marketplace."

In 2013, Maryland lawmakers approved a medical marijuana program that relied on academic institutions to distribute the drug, whose sale is prohibited under federal law. No university volunteered to participate, so the legislature retooled the program in 2014. The program authorizes physicians in the state to recommend the drug for a specific set of conditions, with 15 growers and as many as 94 dispensaries to supply it.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission spent months crafting regulations on how to implement the law, and even longer developing the complicated application that stretches more than 60 pages. Most of the questions require an essay answer, plus proof that the applicant can pay for the operation. The commission plans to have an independent third party review and score all of the applications — with names of applicants redacted — to determine which ones make the first cut.

The commission came under fire last year for setting some of the highest fees in the medical marijuana industry, charging $125,000 to growers for a two-year license and $40,000 for a dispensary. But the cost apparently did not scare off many applicants.

Tony Toskov said he became interested in the business because his wife suffers from migraines and he hopes medical marijuana might alleviate her symptoms. "I hope everyone's doing it for the right reasons," said Toskov, a restaurateur who owns several Anne Arundel County locales and has applied to operate a dispensary in Baltimore, Washington or Anne Arundel. "It's not a pot store; you're getting into the medical business."

November 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

"If Mexico legalizes marijuana, what will the U.S. do?"

Mexico-Marijuana-900The title of this post is the headline of this notable and interesting op-ed in the Los Angeles Times authored by Jorge Castañeda, who once served as foreign minister of Mexicoand now teaches at New York University. Here are excerpts:

Mexico may soon enter an elite club composed of Holland, Portugal, Uruguay and Colorado, Oregon and Washington state: It's on the verge of excluding marijuana from the destructive war on drugs. But will the United States stand in its way?

On Nov. 4, Mexico's Supreme Court voted by a wide margin to declare unconstitutional the country's ban on the production, possession and recreational consumption of marijuana. A group of citizens had banded together in a so-called cannabis club (named SMART, for the initials in Spanish of its full title) and requested permission to grow and exchange marijuana among themselves; the government's health agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) denied them permission; the group sought a writ of habeas corpus, and went all the way to the Supreme Court, which granted them the writ and ordered the agency to legalize the club and allow it to function.

This decision does not entail an across-the-board decriminalization of recreational marijuana. For the moment, it applies only to the group that sought permission. But the court's ruling may eventually extend to everyone seeking to grow or consume the drug.

Absent injury to third parties, the court resolved that, under the constitution, every individual has the right to enjoy life as he or she sees fit, and that secondary legislation — like prohibiting marijuana — cannot curtail that right. The court also ruled that although marijuana may cause some degree of harm to some adult users in large quantities, prohibition is an excessive antidote to that harm....

Unlike in the U.S., public opinion in Mexico is against legalizing pot, which is why SMART chose the judicial road instead of pursuing a legislative approach. Recent history has shown that once the courts resolve controversial social issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, living wills — public opinion shifts and eventually comes around to the more progressive view.

The ruling means a great deal for Mexico. Domestically, it probably spells the beginning of the end of its bloody, costly, fruitless war of choice on marijuana. It will be increasingly awkward for the country's armed forces and police to prosecute growers, wholesale traffickers and retail dealers of a substance that can be grown and consumed legally, if not yet bought and sold freely.

The decision will not immediately affect the country's cartels, or the rising (once again) levels of drug-related violence and corruption. It will, however, eventually bring down marijuana prices, which over time will damage the cartels' business. And if President Enrique Peña Nieto wishes to continue the drug war, the decision will free him to concentrate on heroin and methamphetamines (produced in Mexico) and cocaine (brought from South America).

For the country's always prickly ties with Washington, Mexico's Supreme Court ruling could cut either way. If hard-liners in the U.S. — the Drug Enforcement Administration and its supporters in Congress — determine the American response, there will be trouble.... Or, if President Obama as well as the moderates in the State and Justice departments run the show, the decision could serve as a much-needed excuse to rethink prohibition.

Just as Obama wisely decided not to interfere with state-level legalization in the U.S., he could encourage Peña Nieto not to interfere with the court decision. Both governments could unite in making clear that the ruling, plus next year's probable legalization of recreational use in California, make the war on drugs unmanageable.

Both the U.S. and Mexico would then have no choice but to search for alternative solutions, and leave behind the punitive, security-based approach Washington has imposed on the world since the early 1970s.

November 7, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New York Times editorial praises spread of push for marijuana legalization

The New York Times has this lengthy and astute editorial headlined "The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads." Here is how it starts and ends:

Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing.  Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.

In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country.  And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws.  Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain....

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed.  His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law.  Mr. Sanders’s bill would also make it illegal to transport the drug across state lines.  If Congress is unwilling to act, Mr. Obama should move on his own by ordering the attorney general to request a study by the secretary of health and human services, which would be needed if the administration is to remove the drug from Schedule I on its own.

A growing group of activists, judges and lawmakers is showing the world a path to more sensible drug policies. Mr. Obama and Congress should join them.

November 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Should next week's GOP debate start with a question about marijuana reform and economic development?

103066411-YMYV.530x298The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CBNC article headlined "GOP candidates divided on marijuana." The actual article does not really cover any new ground, but its source is especially notable because CNBC is the host of the next big GOP debate on Wednesday night. Accourding to the article, the CNBC debate on Wednesday, Oct. 28 is being titled "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" and it will "feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy." Moreover, as noted in this prior post, the debate is taking place in Colorado, a state which has experienced notable changes in job growth and taxes as a result of state-level marijuana reform.

In addition to being well-suited for the main topics and setting for next week's GOP debate, marijuana reform issues and related politics are especially timely. Just earlier this week, the Liberal Party in Canada won a huge national election while running on a platform advocating full marijuana legalization.  And just six days after the debate, the swing state of Ohio will have voters deciding whether to become the first state east of the Mississippi to vote on a full marijuana legalization initiative.

At the very least, I would love to see candidate John Kasich, the current Governor of Ohio, asked next week about whether he would acknowledge the potential for marijuana reform in Ohio to enhance job growth and tax revenues while reducing government expenditures on failed big-government, freedom-restricting policies.  In addition, I would love for New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, who has pledged to "enforce the federal law" aggressively even in states that have legalized marijuana, exactly how he would try to prevent Ohio officials from moving ahead with state reforms if voters enact such reforms in the Ohio constitution next month. 

October 23, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Are a lot more Americans smoking pot or are just a lot more now comfortable admitting they are?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this CNN report on new marijuana use research released yesterday.   Here are the basics: 

A heck of a lot more Americans were toking up in 2012-13 than 10 years before -- and not for medical reasons, either -- according to a new study.  The percentage of American adults who had used marijuana within the last year was 9.5%, the study found.  That compared to 4.1% in 2001-02.

The study -- published this week in Jama Psychiatry, a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association -- was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  It was based on in-person interviews with more than 36,000 Americans over the age of 18.

With the increase in use has come an increase in the total number of what the study called "marijuana use disorders."  But the authors of the study put that down to the increase in use:  The percentage of pot smokers with such disorders actually dropped, with about one in three showing signs of dependence or abuse.  As the authors of the study put it, "The prevalence of marijuana use disorder among marijuana users decreased significantly from 2001-2013," from 35.6 percent of users to 30.6.

The attitudes toward the use of marijuana are shifting in the United States, as are the laws governing its use.  Twenty-three states now allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons, the study notes, and four of those states also allow recreational use of the drug. "Given changing laws and attitudes toward marijuana, a balanced presentation of the likelihood of adverse consequences of marijuana use to policy makers, professionals and the public is needed," the study said.

I have been struggling this morning to access the full study/article reference in this press report, but I continue to wonder how much identified changes in self-reported marijuana use in recent years reflects changes in self-reporting rates as much as changes in marijuana use rates.  I hope this new study (and any other similar studies about changes in self-reported marijuana use over long periods of time) take this possibility into account. 

I sense that all activities that carry some measure of social stigma (even legal activities like watching pornography or drinking heavily or gambling) are done (a lot?) more than most people will readily admit, and I think the tendency to under-report stigmatized behavior is especially true when an activity involves serious federal and state criminal activity in addition to being shunned by "respectable" people.  Back in 2001-02, the negative stigma (and criminal concerns) surrounding marijuana use was, I think, quite high and claims about valid medical use of marijuana were rarely embraced (especially as compared social views by 2012-13).  For that reason, I wonder if the number of self-reported marijuana users a decade ago was much lower than in more recent years for reasons that are not only about changing rates of actual marijuana use.

October 22, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Brookings report calls for "Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research"

BrookingsLogoRegular readers know I have often praised the cutting-edge research being done by the The Brookings Institution on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.  The latest big Brookings publication in this arena,  authored by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, is titled "Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research."  This publication provides an effective and detailed review of the multiple problems for scientific research created by federal laws, and here are a couple notable paragraphs from start and end of the lengthy report:

The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety.  As medical marijuana becomes increasingly accessible in state-regulated, legal markets, and as others selfmedicate in jurisdictions that do not allow the medical use of cannabis, it is increasingly important that the scientific community conduct research on this substance.  However, statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.

It is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health, and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use.  People are using cannabis nationwide to treat a variety of ailments.  Doctors in dozens of states are recommending the use of this product as a pseudo-pharmaceutical intervention.  The elderly, veterans, children, and people from every demographic group in the nation claim that the use of cannabis assists in the treatment of their medical conditions.  Despite this, there is limited scientific research on the efficacy of this product overall or by condition or dosage, on interactions, on composition, on side effects, or much of anything else....

As the next president comes to office, he or she will inherit a marijuana policy regime that is inconsistent and often contradictory.  It is incumbent on President Obama’s successor to introduce some uniformity, discipline, and sensibility to this policy area. Focusing on medical marijuana research would be a good place to begin — and the issue’s politics for the next president should be encouraging.  In fact, the next president need not wait until January 20, 2017, to pursue and capitalize on this political opportunity; candidates for the presidency should make marijuana work for them....

Candidates are hesitant to take a bold position on (medical) marijuana policy. And frankly, this reluctance is very difficult to understand.  Public support for medical marijuana reform is quite high across the country and at the state-level.  Multiple polls put the national support for physician-prescribed marijuana between 70 and 80 percent approval.  Polling suggests that in most states — even the most conservative states — support for legalized medical marijuana is at least two to one, and polling at rates of 80 percent or higher in swing states like Ohio, Iowa, Florida, and Virginia. Medical marijuana also polls favorably in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Yet, candidates are meek on the issue.  Oddly, they are comfortable or even eager to take bold positions on much more controversial topics including the Affordable Care Act, entitlement reform, foreign intervention, climate change, and immigration policy, to name a few.  But the medical marijuana reform embraced by the public seems to scare candidates.  Medical marijuana reform should be an easy one for a candidate seeking to connect with prospective voters and the expansion of medical research in the area should be an even easier consideration

October 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

When (if ever) will GOP candidates be drawn to pot's economic development potential?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Denver Post commentary headlined "As GOP candidates debate economy, Colorado pot offers opportunity: Newly legal industry promises riches, jobs." Here are excerpts:

As Republican presidential candidates prepare to debate economic issues in Boulder, the sweet smell of success for the state's legally sold marijuana industry seems impossible to overlook.

Nationally the legal industry brought in about $3 billion in 2014 but is projected to grow to more than $8 billion by 2018, if current politics stay the course, according to the Marijuana Industry Factbook.

Colorado racked up $700 million in sales of recreational and medical pot last year — nearly $76 million in tax revenue, including $13 million in licenses and fees. The industry is expected to top $1 billion this year. Combined sales in Colorado topped $100 million in August, compared with about $47 million in August 2014.

That economic impact could explode as 11 states consider joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing recreational marijuana. The question remains whether the economic argument comes in louder than Republicans' concerns about the moral and public health implications, as well as a view that the 10th Amendment gives states the right to decide.

"There is no argument that marijuana is having a huge economic impact," said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Denver-based Marijuana Industry Group. "When we started out, the top concern was safety, but I think almost everyone recognizes that this hasn't had an impact on traffic safety, crime rates or teen use, and it's safer than alcohol on a lot of fronts.

"Economically, Business Insider has said Colorado has the fastest growing economy. We had record tourism last year and home sales are through the roof. I don't know how much you can attribute that to marijuana, but you can't say it's hurting our economy."...

None of the candidates — Republican or Democrat — have gotten specific on banking, regulations or taxation — issues Colorado lawmakers have had to figure out on their own.

Politically, pot probably won't make or break any candidate, said state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont who sponsors most of the marijuana bills in the legislature. Constituents in his district haven't rewarded or punished him politically, but they expect marijuana to be regulated responsibly, he said.

"Any candidate who chooses to overturn what voters in Colorado, Washington and other states have done, I think, do so at their own political peril," he said. "I think the war on drugs is over, and I don't think there's a broad interest out there to re- litigate the past."

Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said a continued pro-business approach is crucial on the issue. "We simply cannot allow bureaucrats and special interests to dictate the winners and losers in the industry," he said. "Rather, we should be standing up for all Americans, no matter their race or socioeconomic status, to have the opportunity to partake in Colorado's fastest growing industry and soon the nation's newest economic driver.

"Colorado voters took over the job of the GOP and stuck it to the feds. The result? 18,000-plus jobs and millions in revenue; take note candidates, take note."

October 20, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Big Marijuana Reforms Included in Senate Spending Package"

Congress and cannabisThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new report from Tom Angell about notable developments on Capitol Hill.  Here are the interesting and notable details:

A key Senate leader has included several pieces of good news for marijuana law reform advocates in a package of spending bills intended to keep the government operational for the next fiscal year.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, filed the bills on Tuesday, and they have just been uploaded to Congress’s website. Here’s what the bills’ language will do, if enacted:

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Prevent the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Similar language was enacted last year and is current law.

* Allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are medical marijuana patients in accordance with state law.

* Prevent the federal government from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana providers.

Each of the provisions above were passed this year with bipartisan votes on the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both.

The legislation also removes language from previous years’ spending bills that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending money to implement a system of legalized and taxed sales of marijuana. If Cochran’s bill is enacted as is, the District of Columbia will be able to move forward with enacting marijuana sales regulations that the mayor and local lawmakers have indicated they support but have been stymied from moving forward with due to ongoing Congressional interference.

The provisions, and the overall spending proposals they are attached to, represent what Cochran believes can pass the Senate. He and other Senate appropriators are currently in negotiations with leadership from the House Appropriations Committee and are expected to arrive at a compromise spending package sometime before government funding under current legislation runs out on December 11.

October 8, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rural Illinois excited by economic development potential of medical marijuana reform

Download (2)This AP article, headlined "Legal Marijuana Stirs Hope in Illinois Town," highlights the on-the-ground reality that I believe will sustain marijuana reform: local economic development. Here are excerpts:

A skunky aroma fills the room in which hundreds of lush marijuana plants grow, some nearly ready for harvest. Grower Ashley Thompson, a former high school agriculture teacher in this rural part of southeastern Illinois, takes the scent of weed home with her.

She doesn't mind. It's the fragrance of money and jobs. "My family says I smell," said Thompson, who quit the classroom to work for Ataraxia, one of a handful of cultivation centers in Illinois, which is one of 23 states with medical marijuana. "I can't tell though."

The Associated Press recently gained an exclusive look at Illinois' first legal marijuana crop, and the new farmland ritual beginning amid surrounding cornfields in the historic town of Albion: the harvest of medical marijuana that will soon be sold in dispensaries around the state.

Ataraxia is the first center to make it to the finish line after running a gantlet of state requirements. For the company to find a home in Albion — where grain trucks rumble past the sleepy central square, cicadas drone in the trees shading a century-old courthouse and a breeze touches an empty bandstand — is paradoxical. Stores can't sell package liquor, but marijuana has been welcomed as a badly needed source of employment.

A comical T-shirt for sale says the town is "High and Dry." Cheryl Taylor, who sells the shirts at her shop on the square, said the marijuana facility has everyone curious: "It's brought our little town to life."

Down a country road, tucked behind the New Holland tractor dealer and the Pioneer seed plant, the history-making cannabis crop is being cut and dried behind the locked doors of a giant warehouse. By mid-October, strains with names like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Death Star and White Poison will be turned into medicine in many forms: oils, creams, buds for smoking, edible chocolates and gummies.

It's been a twisting path to harvest, marked by delays and a secretive, highly restrictive program meant to avoid the creation of easy-access pot shops seen in other states. Until Illinois gave approval in late September for the AP's tour, only company workers and government inspectors had been inside the warehouse. Thousands of cannabis plants — some in full bud, coated with cannabinoid-rich fibers — filled two large rooms at the facility on the day of the AP's tour. Mother plants and young plants started from cuttings had their own, smaller rooms.

The 1,900-person community of Albion, which is closer to Louisville, Kentucky, than Chicago, has embraced all this, sight unseen. "It's a good thing for the local economy," said Doug Raber, who sells insurance. "This is a pretty conservative area. Any kind of revenue we can have here is good."

Local developers sold a cornfield to Ataraxia for $5,000 an acre, which real estate agent Randy Hallam said is a 50 percent discount. The city also paid to build a road and extend water and sewer lines. The company hired locals to build and outfit the warehouse.

But only seven people, aside from managers, have been hired permanently. With only 3,000 approved medical marijuana patients, the company can't expand yet. CEO George Archos said he wants to hire 50 to 60, and meeting that goal will go a long way to keeping the community's support. "Albion needs to diversify its employment," said Duane Crays, editor of The Navigator, Albion's newspaper. Chief employers regionally are agriculture, oil and gas production, and an auto filter plant....

Residents' excitement over the health benefits of marijuana — from stimulating appetite in cancer patients to easing stiffness for people with multiple sclerosis — may also have historic roots. The bandstand marks the spot where a mineral spring once drew patients suffering from a host of ailments; it was said the water could cure. "My wife has MS," Hallam said. She doesn't have her patient card yet, he said, "but she has a doctor's appointment coming up."

October 4, 2015 in Employment and labor law issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon on the verge of becoming third state with lawful recreational marijuana sales

In a few hours, Oregon will officially join the ranks of Colorado and Washington as states with functioning state-authorized marijuana sales for recreational purposes.  This lengthy Oregonian article, headlined "Pot won't be for sale in many Oregon cities," provides the basic lay of the land on the eve of a new era in the Beaver State.   Here are excerpts:

When recreational cannabis sales start Thursday in Oregon, consumers will be able to buy the drug at most of the state's 300-plus medical marijuana dispensaries. But some communities — ranging from Portland suburbs to cities in eastern Oregon — are keeping the door shut to storefront pot sales of any kind.

In many towns, marijuana remains shunned by the majority and is seen as something that shouldn't be given any official stamp of approval. And even where voters agreed to legalize marijuana, there are worries that retail sales will encourage youth consumption, attract crime or tarnish their commercial districts....

The taboo against the drug is particularly strong throughout many of the state's rural communities. Carol Free, a medical marijuana patient and grower in Baker City, was unable to persuade her city or county to allow even a dispensary — perhaps not a surprise given the nearly 60 percent no vote locally against the Measure 91 legalization measure last year. "It's just a huge fear factor," she said. "People are so wrapped up in the negatives about it."...

In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — where at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, city councils and county commissions can vote to prohibit marijuana businesses of any kind. In the rest of the state, local governments can refer a measure to the November 2016 ballot to ban sales.

Last, the Legislature decided to allow limited recreational sales at medical marijuana dispensaries starting Oct. 1 to give consumers a way to legally buy the drug after it's allowed under Measure 91 but before the state is ready to issue retail licenses. The Legislature left it to cities and county governments to decide whether to opt out.

At last count, governments in six eastern Oregon counties — plus 13 cities in those counties — have voted to ban medical and recreational marijuana sales, production or processing, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Meanwhile, Douglas County and eight other cities have decided to take the issue to voters next year....

In many cases, cities have placed tough zoning restrictions on marijuana businesses. Tualatin, for instance, requires a 3,000-foot buffer from residences, schools and parks that restricts them to one corner of the city. So far, no one has applied to open a dispensary there, according to City Manager Sherilyn Lombos.

Lake Oswego has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries even though 55 percent of the city's voters approved Measure 91. At a Sept. 15 council meeting, officials fretted about how allowing marijuana businesses would affect life in one of Oregon's wealthiest enclaves....

In more isolated communities, many officials and voters hope to wall themselves off from the effects of Measure 91. "Just pure logic tells you, if there are retail sales, use will go up," said Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, who urged officials in both his county and Baker City to ban marijuana businesses....

Don Morse, a Portland dispensary owner who heads the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said his group is organizing to fight local sales bans on the ballot next year. But he said his group is inclined to give places such as Baker County time for the culture to change. "We have no desire to go into a community and force something down their throat," Morse said. "There were some communities that remained dry for a long time after Prohibition ended."

September 30, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

South Dakota tribe poised to open "marijuana resort" to serve as "adult playground"

This new AP article, headlined "Nation's first marijuana resort to open in South Dakota," discusses the soon-to-be-up-and-running marijuana business at the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation. Here are the basic details:

The Santee Sioux tribe has already proven its business acumen, running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch on the plains of South Dakota. But those enterprises have not been immune to competition and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, so the small tribe of 400 is undertaking a new venture -- opening the nation's first marijuana resort on its reservation. The experiment could offer a new money-making model for tribes nationwide seeking economic opportunities beyond casinos.

Santee Sioux leaders plan to grow their own pot and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, and eventually, slot machines and an outdoor music venue. "We want it to be an adult playground," tribal President Anthony Reider said. "There's nowhere else in American that has something like this."

The project, according to the tribe, could generate up to $2 million a month in profit, and work is already underway on the growing facility. The first joints are expected to go on sale Dec. 31 at a New Year's Eve party.

The legalization of marijuana on the Santee Sioux land came in June, months after the Justice Department outlined a new policy that allows Indian tribes to grow and sell marijuana under the same conditions as some states.

Many tribes are hesitant to jump into the pot business. And not everyone in Flandreau, about 45 miles north of Sioux Falls, believes in the project. But the profit potential has attracted the interest of many other tribes, just as the debut of slot machines and table games almost 27 years ago.

"The vast majority of tribes have little to no economic opportunity," said Blake Trueblood, business development director at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. For those tribes, "this is something that you might look at and say, 'We've got to do something.'"

Flandreau's indoor marijuana farm is set against a backdrop of soybean fields. If not for a security booth outside, the building could pass as an industrial warehouse. Inside, men are working to grow more than 30 different strains of the finicky plant, including those with names like "Gorilla Glue," ''Shot Glass" and "Big Blue Cheese."...

Tribal leaders from across the country and South Dakota legislators will tour the Flandreau facility in mid-October. "This is not a fly-by-night operation," said Jonathan Hunt, Monarch's vice president and chief grower. Tribal leaders "want to show the state how clean, how efficient, how proficient, safe and secure this is as an operation. We are not looking to do anything shady."...

Unlike the vast reservations in western South Dakota, where poverty is widespread, the little-known Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation is on 5,000 acres of gently rolling land along the Big Sioux River. Trailer homes are scarce and houses have well-trimmed lawns. The Santee Sioux hope to use pot in the same way that many tribes rely on casinos -- to make money for community services and to provide a monthly income to tribal members. The existing enterprises support family homes, a senior living community, a clinic and a community center offering afterschool programs.

Reider hopes marijuana profits can fund more housing, an addiction treatment center and an overhaul of the clinic. Some members want a 24/7 day care center for casino workers....

Since the Santee Sioux announced their plans, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine signed a letter of intent with Monarch to build a cultivation facility for industrial hemp. The Suquamish Tribe and Washington state officials signed a 10-year agreement that will govern the production, processing and sale of pot on the tribe's land.

In the long run, Reider is certain that the benefits will outweigh the risks of tribal marijuana enterprises. The tribe, he said, must "look at these opportunities because in order to preserve the past we do have to advance in the present."

Prior related posts:

September 29, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Weed and Water Law: Regulating Legal Marijuana"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper authored by Ryan Boudin Stoa available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Marijuana is nearing the end of its prohibition in the United States.  Arguably the country’s largest cash crop, marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC.  Between now and election day 2016, an additional 14 states may place marijuana legalization initiatives on their ballots. In addition, 23 states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana, with up to seven states pending legislation.  The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

At the same time, traditional doctrines of water law are struggling to cope with the modern realities of water scarcity.  Administrative agencies lack capacities to monitor and enforce water rights in real-time amid rapidly changing conditions.  As marijuana cultivation leaves the black market and enters state regulatory frameworks, legal doctrines and administrative agencies will need to adapt in order to balance existing water rights with the demands of marijuana production.  Failure to do so will encourage producers to remain clandestine while perpetuating existing conflicts between legal and illegal water users.  At present there is a gap in understanding the relationship between water rights and marijuana legalization, despite their rapid convergence.

This Article is the first to systematically address that gap.  The study begins by describing status quo marijuana production taking place outside the context of state water law doctrines, and the unsustainable conditions that often result.  Sections III and IV envision a legal marijuana market governed by the predominant doctrines of US water law: prior appropriation and riparianism.  In Section V the theoretical becomes reality, as California’s complex water laws are put to the test by the largest marijuana cultivation community in the United States.  Section VI concludes with recommendations for states in the process of legalization.  Broadly speaking, this Article finds that both common law and regulatory approaches to water allocation are capable of accommodating legal marijuana cultivation, but to minimize disruptions to existing water rights and the marijuana industry, state agencies will need to proactively adapt to the new realities of the legal marijuana economy.

September 27, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Did last night's GOP debate "open the door to legal marijuana"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this extended MSNBC article that seems to think the (relatively brief) discussion of marijuana policy during the latest GOP debate was something of a game-changer.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Marijuana had a major moment at the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, taking center stage for the first time this election season. But rather than launch a new war on drugs, several candidates endorsed the right of states to make their own decision on marijuana, clearing the way for an explosion of new pro-pot ballot initiatives in 2016.

Speaking at the presidential library of drug warrior Ronald Reagan, the GOP vanguard might have been expected to double down on opposition to the drug, promising to stamp out marijuana in America. But the biggest cheers came for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina – the three candidates who pledged to let local governments do what they want about pot.

They didn’t have a single soft word for marijuana itself, but they gave their ideological blessing to the four states where voters have already said “yes, please” to recreational markets. CNN moderator Jake Tapper set up the question with a reference to the sinking candidacy of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor who believes federal drug law should be enforced on the state level. ...

“I don’t think that the federal government should override the states,” Paul answered. “I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.” The audience erupted in applause. And he wasn’t done. “I would let Colorado do what the Tenth Amendment says,” he continued, referring to the first state to legalize marijuana. “Colorado has made their decision. And I don’t want the federal government interfering and putting moms in jail, who are trying to get medicine for their kid.”

Paul also landed a racial and social critique of the status quo, which includes arresting hundreds of thousands of people for marijuana possession, most of them nonwhite, poor, and in for a world of collateral damage as a result of a bust. That forced Jeb Bush into the conversation, where he ratified the same idea of state rights.

“What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision,” he said. “I agree with Senator Paul. I agree with states’ rights,” added Fiorina.

But unfortunately the candidates also displayed an old fashioned and largely misguided understanding of marijuana’s dangers and its rank among more dangerous drugs. Paul took the softest approach, saying that marijuana’s “only victim” is the individual. But he still called pot use “a crime.”

Fiorina, Christie and Bush, meanwhile, made no distinction between marijuana and heroin. And to varying degrees they promoted the debunked idea that marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drugs just because it often comes first in a sequence.

Fiorina gave strongest voice to the anti-drug position, unveiling a painful personal story that could have been clipped from a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s. “I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing,” she said. “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. So, we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.”...

What Fiorina said is certainly true. Drug addiction is a killer. But the culprit is not marijuana, according to the best available research. What America is experiencing is a great heroin relapse, with the death rate for overdoses quintupling since 2002, cutting through class and color lines. Heroin today is now as popular and deadly as crack cocaine was in the 1980s. Marijuana, meanwhile, remains incapable of delivering a fatal overdose.

Chris Christie and Jeb Bush also lumped marijuana and the harder drugs and no one tried to correct them. “Here’s the deal,” said Bush. “We have a serious epidemic of drugs that goes way beyond marijuana.” He referenced New Hampshire, one of the states hardest hit by heroin overdoses. “People’s families are being torn apart.”

Chris Christie went even further, deploying some of the oldest and least defensible arguments of the old war on drugs even as he claimed the drug war has been a failure. “That doesn’t mean we should be legalizing gate way drugs,” he said. “And if Senator Paul thinks that the only victim is the person, look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug, it is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also.”

That’s a scary speech for supporters of marijuana reform, but for now it’s also a moot position. As long as Republican support for “states rights” is stronger than their distaste for marijuana use, reformers have nothing to fear.

Though I found the discussion of marijuana policy by the GOP candidates to be interesting and somewhat significant, I really did not perceive it to be a true game-changer.  To his credit, Senator Paul seemed to try to get the discussion focused a bit more on medical marijuana, and I think sharp questions to the GOP about medical marijuana reform in the states (and at the federal level) could have produced something big.  But I did not come away from what actually transpired thinking all that much had changed politically.  But I welcome other perspective on this part of the GOP debate last night.

September 17, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Extended examination on how marijuana reform might (or might not) be impacting black markets

This lengthy new Vice article, headlined "How America's Legal Weed Is Changing the Black Market and Influencing Mexican Cartels," provides an effective (though necessarily incomplete) account of how legal reform developments in the United States are impacting all sort of marijuana markets. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

And these are mostly happy days for the legal weed industry, whose sales revenues grew from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year; one projection has them hitting $35 billion by 2020. All across Oregon, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, people are attempting to carve out niches, hawking a dizzying array of weed sodas, candies, extracts, and other products. Oregonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative last year that sanctioned pot sales to recreational users, making the state the next frontier of the so-called "green rush" that began in Colorado and Washington in 2012....

That new day hasn't dawned entirely. The hodgepodge of pot laws nationwide — 23 states plus Washington, DC now allow some form of medical marijuana — has created a situation ripe for exploitation. One of the great promises of marijuana legalization has been the concurrent elimination of the black market for weed, putting local dealers out of business and sticking it to Mexican cartels by cutting into their bottom line.

But while that may happen eventually, the black market in the United States is still thriving. Growers, consumers, dealers, and others in the industry told VICE News about operators that undercut prices at state pot shops, and several sources described illicit operations that ship large quantities of weed across the country from states that have legalized pot to states that haven't. Mexican organized crime experts told us that cartels are still smuggling bricks of bud across the border, and are perhaps even improving the quality of their product to cater to the rising expectations of American stoners.

"You're not going to eliminate the black market overnight," Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told VICE News. "It's going to take some time, because essentially when you look at prices in the black market, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, you're compensating drug dealers and everyone in the supply chain for the risk of arrest and incarceration. That goes away with legalization."

Most experts agree with Kilmer, saying that in time, as more states repeal pot prohibition, the dynamics of the marijuana black market will begin to resemble those of America's tobacco and alcohol black markets. There are still people selling untaxed loose cigarettes and running moonshine even though the vast majority of consumers prefer going to the store to buy smokes and alcohol legally. Right now, it's extremely tempting for growers in legal states to export their product to prohibition states, where prices are far higher.

Sam Chapman, cofounder of New Economy Consulting, a firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, told VICE News it's widely known that a significant portion of the weed grown in Oregon and northern California gets exported to the East Coast. "We've been seeing that product end up in Florida, end up in New York — places that don't have cannabis decriminalization and have very harsh punishments," he said. "When you have prohibition in other states, it drives the price up [there] because it's not regulated… I'd guess 80 percent of all product in Oregon is, unfortunately, leaving the state."

August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ohio Auditor draws fascinating parallel between margarine and marijuana prohibitions in Ohio

Images (9)The state-wide elected (Republican) Auditor of Ohio, Dave Yost, has penned this fascinating new commentary headlined "Ohio marijuana proposal echo cautionary tale of margarine prohibition." The whole piece merits a full read, and here are some of the historical insights and lessons Auditor Yost presents:

Margarine prohibition ended in Ohio via the ballot box in 1949.  How it happened sheds some light on the attempts to repeal marijuana prohibition this year.

Oleomargarine, as it was known at the dawn of the 20th century, was invented in France as a result of a prize offered for the invention of a cheap substitute for butter. The invention spread quickly to the United States....

[The invention caused] alarm among Wisconsin dairy farmers who correctly concluded that a tasty, less expensive alternative to their butter would create a drop in sales and cut into their income.  Threatened by the competition, they won passage of new laws banning the sale of yellow oleomargarine.  In 1890, Ohio enacted its own prohibition on yellow oleomargarine.  Plain white oleo was legal – only the kinds that looked like butter were against the law.

White oleo could be sold with yellow dye packets that could be mixed in at home.  The additional labor, at a time before power mixers and food processors, was not well received in Ohio's kitchens.   The end result was frequently a swirled effect, yellow and white. At least it didn't look like rendered pig fat.  (That's what lard is, of course.)

The matter was challenged in court as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1903 held that the Fifth Amendment did not apply to the states, only the federal government.

So, aggrieved Ohioans turned to their legislature, seeking relief.  Year after long year, they were whipped by the powerful dairy lobby – a potent political force at a time when every county had at least one representative in the House, no matter how small its population.

The political churn made Ohioans burn with passion – they yearned to keep more of what they earned by purchasing cheaper butter substitute.  Finally, they turned to the initiative process, collected petition signatures, and placed the issue on the 1949 November ballot, ending prohibition against yellow oleo once and for all.

Today, the self-proclaimed ResponsibleOhio is seeking an end to marijuana prohibition through the initiative process – but with a twist.  If approved by voters, it would write into the Ohio Constitution the location of ten farms that would be allowed to grow marijuana, exclusively.

A business plan shouldn't be written into the constitution.  Even if you're for ending prohibition – of oleo or marijuana – writing into the constitution an exclusive license to make the newly legalized product is a bad idea.  It wasn't needed for oleo legalization, and it's not needed for marijuana legalization either.

A legalized, properly licensed market should be available to all comers, not just the few with the money to enshrine into the Ohio Constitution a monopoly for themselves. Oleo prohibition ended at the hands of the voters – and without the creation of a cartel of rich guys to control the market.  If it is the judgment of the voters of Ohio that marijuana prohibition should end, the ResponsibleOhio amendment is the wrong way to go about it.

I find this commentary fascinating not only because I did not know Ohio's margarine prohibition history, but also because it suggests many legal reform lessons.  In my view, this Ohio margerine prohibition history highlights that: (1) even when lots of citizens desire a product, entrenched economic and social interests and lobbyists can get Ohio legislators to enact big-government, market-imparing prohibitions placing the short-term interests of insiders over the long-term interests of citizens, and (2) because entrenched insiders have power and influence in Ohio, citizens outsiders will sometimes have to go directy to the people to amend Ohio law in order to reflect the long-term interests of Ohioans rather than the short-term interests of entrenched insiders.

I am an advocate of marijuana reform in  part because I see the development of ballot-driven reform efforts in Ohio and some other states to be a (healthy) reaction to entrenched insiders failing to respond properly to the citizenry's views on both medical and recreational marijuana.  I believe the controversial ResponsibleOhio reform model emerged (and could become Ohio constitutional law) primarily because the Ohio General Assembly for years  failed to even consider any kind of medical marijuana reform (even as nearly 40 states and many members of Congress now have come to understand the potential benefits of canabis  for those suffering from chronic pain or severe seizure disorders or PTSD).  

Thanks to Auditor Yost, I now know entrenched anti-margarine interests required the Ohio people to move forward with prohibition repeal via initiative back in the 1940s .  Now,  65 years later, Ohio history is repeating itself as entrenched anti-marijuana interests are requiring the Ohio people to move forward with desired prohibition repeal via initiative.  And even if the ResponsibleOhio model does not in 2015 succeed in creating the kind of "legalized, properly licensed market" that Auditor Yost and the citizens of Ohio seem eager to consider, I am cautiously hopeful that other outsider groups will continue in Ohio (and elsewhere) to mobilize citizens to support personal freedom over prohibition, legal markets over black markets, economic potential over problematic paternalism.

August 9, 2015 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Why marijuana legalization is the rare issue that divides the 2016 Republican presidential field"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Paul Waldman at The Week. Here are excerpts: 

Republicans, as everyone knows, are advocates of "states' rights," the theory being that power residing in the hands of the federal government is inherently suspect, while power spread out among 50 smaller governments is inherently virtuous — or at least more so. After all, aren't states "laboratories of democracy," where all kinds of interesting experimentation can take place and the best ideas can then bubble up to the rest of the country?

Well...sometimes. The truth is that conservatives like states having independence when they like what the states are doing, and liberals feel the same way (the difference is that liberals don't claim they have a philosophical commitment to states' rights over federal rights in the abstract). When states' rights collide with a policy objection, the policy objection is going to win.

Usually, that is. But there's at least one area where the GOP is divided on the whole states' rights issue. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this week highlighted the disagreement with some blunt words about legalized marijuana. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he said. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Chris Christie, in other words, is coming to harsh your buzz — or he would be, if he had any chance of actually becoming president.

His position isn't an unreasonable one. While the Justice Department has discretion in how vigorously it enforces the law, and can decide to allow state legalization to take effect unimpeded, federal law is supreme over state laws, and marijuana is still illegal under federal law....

While this issue hasn't gotten much attention in the presidential race so far, it's one of the few where you'll actually find some diversity of opinion among the GOP candidates. Marco Rubio seems to agree with Christie; though he's a little vague, he says that "we need to enforce our federal laws." Scott Walker's position is essentially the same. Ted Cruz thinks it's all right for the federal government to leave states alone on this issue, but he says that should be Congress' decision, not the president's. Jeb Bush has said about legalization in those states, "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have the right to do it." Rick Perry says much the same thing: states that legalized "will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made," but his commitment to the Tenth Amendment is such that he'll "defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions."

Rand Paul has gone the farthest: While he doesn't support legalization, he has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana and has advocated an end to harsh criminal penalties for possession.

With the sort-of-but-not-really exception of Paul, all the Republicans want to make clear that they're opposed to anyone smoking pot. That might be perfectly sincere, but it also reflects their party's demographics and its role in the culture war. To the prototypical Republican — particularly the Republican primary voter — marijuana is something hippies do.

But within the party, that feeling is far from universal. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 39 percent of Republicans favored legalization. That's significantly less than the 59 percent of Democrats who agreed, but it's still a substantial chunk of the party — and up 15 points from what Pew showed just five years ago. So as strange as it may seem, within a few years a majority of Republican voters might actually favor legalization....

[I]f more and more states legalize cannabis, it could mean that even today's most common Republican position — I don't like it, but I'm not going to fight it — could wind up being de facto support for legalization, at least in the half of the country where liberals are in charge. And if public opinion keeps moving in this direction, don't be surprised if the Democratic nominee in 2020 — and the Republican nominee within another election or two after that — actually comes out in favor of legal pot.

July 30, 2015 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

With $70 million in state tax revenue, "Pot money changing hearts in Washington"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new CNN article.  Here are excerpts from an article that does not quite match the headline but captures the important reality of modern changing sentiments:

This week marks the one-year anniversary since sales of marijuana for recreational use began in Washington state. In the first year, $70 million in tax revenue has been generated statewide from marijuana sales. The Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees the state's cannabis industry, reports that dispensaries sold more than $257 million worth of marijuana.

Chip Boyden, who owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Tucson, Arizona, jumped at the thought of expanding his marijuana business with family in Washington after the first dispensaries started to open in July 2014. Washington voters passed a law in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21. When Boyden first opened his shop in Tucson, he said the attitude from the surrounding community was less than supportive, although the state permits medical marijuana usage. "We had people come up and say they aren't against it, but they were unsure who was going to be the demographic for our business," he said.

But in Seattle, Boyden said he noticed a difference in attitude at Hashtag recreational cannabis, a pot shop that Boyden started in April with co-owner Logan Bowers and shop manager Michael Bowers. "We had great support. We didn't have anyone come in a get upset," Logan Bowers said.

Boyden said there's a cultural shift happening in Washington, Colorado and other states that have started to legalize marijuana use. "The recreational market allows people, those who were interested in trying cannabis, to be able to come in and sample different flavors," he explained. "It's more like going into the store and buying a bottle of wine."...

Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, which provides consulting and support for marijuana dispensaries across the United States, said that marijuana legalization and sales will start to become a larger political discussion. "I think 2016 is the year where this is actually an issue in presidential policy that candidates have to answer to," he said.

As for Washington state's first year of marijuana sales, Krane said $70 million in tax revenue actually seems a bit low. "It's important to know that number is not indicative of what we will see in year two or three." He is predicting that those numbers will increase, especially if the excise tax is lowered in the state.

But for dispensary owners and operators Logan Bowers and Michael Bowers, it's not the money that's drawing them into the business. Rather, it is the change in attitude they are seeing. "One thing that struck me most as a manager, is the wide variety of people who come in," Michael Bowers said. "We see older customers bring in their adult children. It's normal people using it. It's everyday people in your neighborhood."

July 11, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)